The National Day of Prayer was established to remind us to pray—primarily for our nation, but also as a reminder to participate in the most vital of spiritual practices. I was lamenting my shameful prayer life to my friend, Paul Franklyn, and he gave me advice that spurred me to get my prayer life on track. Paul reminded me that if I truly want a relationship with God, like any relationship, we must talk to each other.
So, I was ready to pray; but when I would start, frankly, I found myself drifting . . . at a loss for words. I realized I needed an object, something to help me concentrate and focus. There are many tools out there to help bring focus: labyrinths, stones, calligraphy, illumination, sand gardens . . . the list goes on, and these objects have been used throughout the history of Christianity.
To be clear, these objects are not intended to replace prayer, or to be used as some folk- or fairytale “charm,” but rather as reminders, anchors, and tactile-learner tools to help us arrive and remain in a prayerful state—an outer manifestation of inner spiritual life.
Stones and Labyrinths
For example, many of my friends use prayer stones; they’re easy to carry or display in a special place. More than just a reminder to pray, they also serve as a reminder of the clay we came from, and the rock that God is for us.
I often see labyrinths on a desk or in a special place in a home. Often are mistaken for mazes, labyrinths have only one way in; mazes, on the other hand, are intended to trick with wrong ways and dead ends. In a labyrinth, though you may seem to be lost, you never are. Labyrinths are very powerful reminders of God’s grace; the tactile sensation of the journey inside steadies us for prayer, and the center of the labyrinth is intended for just that.
On my wall, tucked away where only I can see it, hangs a plaque of a prayer very special to me. When I have a tough phone call, a rough conversation or just a bad day—I can see it. I pray for myself, but it also reminds me to pray for others. Especially for their forgiveness if I have been too tough or unreasonable. It is a reminder to do better next time.
But my own preference, in terms of regular prayer? I use prayer beads on a regular basis. Though we often associate beads with the Roman Catholic rosary, the practice of praying with beads is found in every religion and goes back millennia. I use traditional Protestant (sometimes called Anglican) beads:
- Thirty-three beads (often said to be the years Christ lived) divided into . . .
• Four sets of weeks (seven beads each, as seven is often a Christian sign of perfection or completion) separated by . . .
• Four cruciform beads (that remind us of the cross) and you start with . . .
• One invitatory bead that completes the circle.
I adapt favorite prayers to the template, and keep them in a journal to help me ‘move through’ the beads. The beauty, feel, and repetition of the beads help calm and immerse me in my prayers. They are portable, so I take them with me everywhere. I have sets stashed in purses, drawers, and pockets—always there when I need them.
So, this April 5th, please pray for our nation and the world, but don’t stop there. Take the reminder to renew, deepen, or even start a regular prayer practice. If you are not sure how to start the conversation, consider searching for a prayer object, a prayer spot, or some other reminder that will help you arrive at that point.
Mary McCarthy is the Executive Director of Merchandising at Cokesbury, selecting many of the books and all of the gift items we offer. 2016 marks Mary’s 40th anniversary in the book business. Trinity Episcopal (Russellville, Kentucky) is her Church home.